Brevity

In his Eos article, Alex Dessler noted the existence of an Editorial about brevity in paper writing. The full article is here but it is, well, extremely brief, so here it is.JGR-Brevity-Editorial

            “The growth of the Journal of Geophysical Research has brought new problems to both authors and readers. Scientific output has increased markedly; yet the amount an individual can read and understand hasn’t. The fraction of papers being read is declining. Authors who wish their work to be read, understood, and referenced would serve themselves well if they would present the results of their research in a clear, terse format. Such writing may require as much thoughtful effort as the scientific investigation itself.

“To quote Charles Darwin, ‘A naturalist’s life would be a happy one if he had only to observe and never to write.’ The writing and polishing of drafts of papers submitted for publication is usually the most distasteful part of a scientific investigation. However, the need for brevity and clarity has never been more acute. In an effort to better assist authors and serve readers, we will ask the Journal’s referees to be particularly alert to both unnecessary materials and digressive prose in typescripts submitted for publication.”

It’s one of the shortest papers I have ever read. Fantastic!

The main point is still true today: there is more written each year than we can possibly hope to read and understand. Being consice and clear is a skill that requires practice to be developed and maintained. It is good advice to authors to strive for brevity, cutting what isn’t necessary to make the point you want to make. It is also good advice to reviewers to look for ways to trim a paper down if it is excessively wordy. For everyone at both ends of the scholarly publishing process, please take Dessler’s advice.

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